There is nothing like parenting to hold that mirror up to a grown person’s face (to my face, to your face…) and show us where we get to grow. Apparently I get to grow in patience and acceptance because these two keep showing up in my dang mirror. They were there yesterday, staring out at me. I recognized them right away.
My eight year old walked into the living room and saw it first. Instead of screaming at the horror she alone was witnessing (which, thinking back to being eight, could have been a fun thing to do) she ran to find me in the kitchen and broke it to me gently.
With big eyes and a shocked look on her face she said, “Mom, you are NOT going to like this.” She paused for dramatic effect. I froze and braced myself for impact.
“You are really going to freak out.”
Grateful for the cue, I realized in that moment that I already was freaking out. A quiet, still sort of freaking out, but a freak-out just the same. I took a deep breath, unglued my feet from where I’d been standing and prepared myself for the worst. Quickly, I walked into the next room wondering what could have happened in the last five minutes.
Who was I kidding. Anything could have happened. It had been far too quiet since I’d broken away to wash some dishes. My older two kids had been doing homework and my two year old twins had been playing on the floor beside them.
I made it to the dining room and at first glance, the scene wasn’t bad at all. There was no blood, no broken glass and no obvious harm had come to any of my children or our pets.
It was the second glance that got me. As I rounded the corner from the dining room into our family room, I saw it. Big green circles were making their way across our maybe five month-old tan leather couch. And there was my son, caught green-handed.
It’s times like these where conscious parenting earns it’s name. When you feel like reacting one way, but by the grace of some force greater than yourself, you respond in another.
I caught my breath and Colin’s hand mid-circle, saying firmly, “All done.” I said it over and over until I saw on his face he understood, Mom was not into graffiti couch art. I worked to stay present both to how I was feeling AND to the way I was responding. And in that moment, I wondered, had I been a parent who believed in spanking as an act of discipline, would I have given my son a quick swat on the back side and thought it a teaching moment? Probably. Okay, I thought, then how would I grow? How would I get to own my anger and frustration in challenging parenting moments such as this? Where would patience and acceptance stare out at me from?
Parent or not, most human beings would agree, mindful living is a challenge and takes practice. And here’s the good news for us parents (or not so good news, depending on how you look at it) by definition, being a parent means we are going to GET a lot of practice. It’s part of the job description. Being a parent help make our lives a-parent to us. Every day. The laundry, the fighting, the whining, getting out the door in the morning without having a heart- attack or biting someone’s head -off, AND all the magical moments that fall in between. It’s in those sweet moments where your five year old comes down from snuggling with dad and announces “Snuggies are what life is all about.” Or when your three year old says, “Mom, snow is quiet.” We are teaching our children, and they are teaching us.
I get it. I get being mad. I get feeling frustrated. But back to the idea of spanking as discipline, to hit a young child in the name of teaching, this notion strikes me as both misdirected and ineffective.
Spanking denies both parent and child the opportunity to learn and grow from whatever trigger life has just delivered. And as life is persistent in it’s desire to help us grow, it’s going to keep on delivering (maybe through our kids or maybe somewhere else in life) until we figure it out. Why not stop to look at whatever it is we are upset about and allow the moment to teach us, even as we teach our children?
When there’s misbehavior in young children, more often than not, it is in the parent’s behavior, not the child’s, where a solution can be found. I’m not saying the parent of a child misbehaving is bad or wrong or even to blame. Take this instance with my little guy and the markers. It is what it is. I wasn’t in the room, the markers were out and the coast was clear. My two year old grabbed his favorite color and the largest canvas he could find. If you think about it, how fun would that have been? Why would a two year old whose j0b it is to explore the world around him, touching, pushing, pulling, tasting, climbing and jumping his way around the planet NOT do this? That might be a more logical question.
If I was a parent that believed in spanking, I might think that “sparing the rod” in this circumstance would be deny my son a learning opportunity. I might fear that I’m spoiling my child. Other people, well meaning family members for instance, might even tell me I am. Let’s look at this line of reasoning a little closer.
Is spanking an effective form of discipline? Could it have taught my son that markers belong on paper, not couches? I don’t think so, and here is why. Our true parenting power lies not in a quick swat on a child’s backside, but in taking a long, hard look at ourselves, the environment our child is in and other factors that contribute to their behavior. That’s a big statement, I know, but before though-st protest, let me make the case for it.
People seem to get where their true power lies in changing, correcting AND creating desirable behaviors when it comes to their pets. Just watch any of the pet shows where the pet expert is called in to help a pet owner whose dog is acting out. Who gets the training? The OWNER. They are taught to be consistent, to show love, to set boundaries, not to hit, not to yell, to reward positive behavior, to ignore, replace or otherwise correct negative behavior.
We’ve just described the basis for conscious parenting, but we were talking about our dogs.
Research on learning and brain development shows us that what’s good for Rover is also good for Bobby and Susie. Our power lies in love and connection, not force and fear. How can I say this? Studies show human beings learn far more from positive reinforcement than negative. In the face of fear, thinking moves out of the cerebral-cortex and into the brain-stem. The fight or flight mechanism takes over and no learning occurs. This is what happens within the brain of a child getting spanked. Fight or flight.
Spanking doesn’t teach. It might deter, but if we want to teach a child right from wrong, rather than spanking why not deliver the lesson in a way that the child can receive it? Why not teach to the thinking part of their brain?
If we as a society can understand how effective positive reinforcement is with our pets, surely we can make the leap to accepting positive reinforcement as superior to negative techniques, such as spanking, in parenting.
Back to my teaching moment. It didn’t take much for the light bulb to go on in my son’s head. I imagine it went something like this… “Mom took the marker away. She said “all done”, over and over. She moved me away form the couch and then wiped away all my cool circles. She sat me at the table and got out the markers again. She showed me where my marker belong. On paper. She gave me a marker and let me draw on the paper. I get it!”
Even as green swirls were taking over my once tan leather couch, the idea of parenting as a spiritual path jumped into my head. What am I needing to learn about today? Ah yes. It’s my old friends patience and acceptance. Come on in guys. Have a seat. Pick up a rag and help me scrub these circles off the couch.
In times of domestic chaos when I am near my edge it helps me to remember that I am indeed on a spiritual path. The spiritual path of motherhood. This realization alone helps me. It helps me pause, take a deep breath and wonder with each new day of skinned knees and blowout diapers, what is here for me?
Connection rather than spanking. Connection, first to ourselves and then to our children, a true gift for all as we grow along the spiritual path that is parenthood.
Spanking doesn’t work for the child, for the parents, or for society. Spanking… creates a distance between parent and child, and it contributes to a violent society.
– Doctor Sears
Suzanne Tucker, aka Zen Mommy
In addition to mommy-ing to two magical girls born in 2000 and 2003 and twins born in February of 2010, Suzanne co-owns a holistic health center with her husband Shawn in St. Louis, Missouri where she practices as Certified Educator of Infant Massage and health education teacher. Certified in a number of healing and life education approaches, Suzanne offers parent coaching and is the co-creator of the Yoga Parenting approach to positive parenting.